Naxalism in India: Historical Background
The Naxal movement finds its origin from the Naxalbari incident that happened on 25 May 1967 at Bengai Jote village in Naxalbari, located in the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Here, a tribal youth, who had a judicial order to plough his land, was attacked by the goons of local landlords. The tribals retaliated and refused to part with the land owner’s share of their produce and lifted the entire stock from his granary. It ignited a violent movement
To maintain law and order, the state government (which was a coalition front called United Front having leaders from CPI, CPI(M), Bangla Congress and eight other parties) ordered police action against the rebellions. Police opened fire on villagers and firing killed 9 adults and 2 children.
This uprising was crushed in some two and half months but it gained tremendous support and lead from the ‘communist revolutionaries’ belonging to the state units of the CPI (M) such as Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.
Charu Mazumdar had written various articles based on Marx-Lenin-Mao thought. These articles were later known as “Historic Eight Documents’ and formed the ideological basis of Naxalite movement.
Charu Mazumdar is now hailed as the father of Naxalism in India and also the first Maoist of India.
Communist Party and Maoists: Historical Background
Communist Party of India (CPI) was founded in 1920s with an objective to introduce communist revolution in India. They started mobilizing workers and by 1940s, they were able to control the All India Trade Union Congress.
However, in early 1940s, they were politically cornered because of their opposition to the Quit India Movement.
Quit India Movement and CPI
Kindly note that Quit India movement was neither supported by Hindu Mahasabha, nor CPI nor Princely states. Though CPI opposed the QIM, yet a large class of workers participated in that movement. But at the same time, CPI supported the war effort to assist the Soviet Union. In response the British lifted the ban on the party.
But in 1946, the Telangana Uprising (1946-51) gave CPI another chance to mobilize the people on the principle of armed struggle. At around the same time, CPI’s peasant front Kisan Sabha led and organized a militant campaign in West Bengal as Tebhaga Movement. In those days, tenants or share-cropping peasants had to give half of their harvest to the owners of the land. The demand of the Tebhaga (sharing by thirds) movement was to reduce the share given to landlords to one third.
After the Sino-India war of 1962, serious differences emerged within the CPI as to whether support India (where the government was Pro-soviet) or China (a socialist country). The ideological dogfight led to a major split in CPI in 1964 whereby the parent CPI remained Pro-Soviet, while the split part called CPI(Marxist) was born as a Pro-Chinese faction. In 1967, the CPI(M) decided to contest elections in West Bengal. After the elections, a collation called United Front formed the first non-congress government in West Bengal. This front had leaders from CPI, CPI(M), Bangla Congress and eight other parties.
But to be or not to be a part of the government was a reason of another dogfight in CPI(M). One of its leaders Charu Majumdar accused the other leaders of CPI(M) of betraying the revolution for which CPI was established. When the Naxalbari incident happened, Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal leaded the peasants. In 1968, the movement re-emerged in a larger form in the northern parts of Andhra Pradesh. Here, the guerrillas seized property, killed landlords and engaged in acts of terror. The guerrillas were met with swift and heavy response from the state and they were crushed by 1970. Meanwhile in 1969, a movement in West Bengal exploded again whereby landlords were murdered, property was redistributed and peasants debts were cancelled. It was also quelled within few months. In the same year, the CPI (Marxist) split and Charu Mazumdar formed the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI (ML).
First Phase of Numerous Splits
In 1972, Mazumdar was arrested and he died in custody. It was almost end of Naxal movement but became the inspiration for those who were interested in achieving social justice through violence. CPI (ML) once again split into various factions led separately by Vinod Mishra, Mahadev Mukherjee, Santosh Rana, Chandra Pulla Reddy, Tarimela Nagi Reddy, Appalsuri and others. Thus, from its beginning till late 1980s, the Naxal Movement saw numerous splits and few mergers. But this was the period of spread of the ideology of Naxalism. During these times, the movement attracted and motivated a large number of young people including the students. During this period, almost 200 revolutionary journals and publications were brought out. In those days, the movement had ideological, moral, financial and intellectual backing from China. In due course, the Naxal movement spread in several states.
Second Phase of merger and consolidation
In 1980, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah separated from the CPI (ML) and founded the People’s War Group (PWG), in the Karimangar district of Andhra Pradesh. Then, in 1992, Mupppala Lakshmana Rao (alias Ganapathy) ousted Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and assumed the post of general secretary of the PWG. After that there were significant mergers and consolidation of various Naxalite factions in the country, most notable among them is the formation of Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) in 2003.
In 2004, the People’s war and MCCI merged resulting in the formation of the largest and most lethal Naxalite outfit in India, known as CPI (Maoist). At that time, it had an estimated strength of 9,500 underground armed men and women. Ganapathy is its general secretary and currently is its leader. In 2014, the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Naxalbari also merged into the CPI (Maoist). Currently, this is party has been declared as Terrorist Organization under UAPA Act.
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